Last week, Inna Vernikov, a New York City councilwoman representing southern Brooklyn, was charged with criminal possession of a firearm. The story flared briefly, then faded amid graver breaking developments, but it’s worth retelling, because the story of Vernikov’s plight is the story of why Jews aren’t and cannot be safe in New York or any other major American city. It’s the story of bad laws happening to good people.
Why was Vernikov arrested? Let’s review the evidence: she has a concealed-carry permit, and at the time of her arrest, she was making sure that her handgun was, well, concealed. An official statement by the New York Police Department informed anyone interested that “at no point in time was anyone menaced or injured as a result of [Vernikov] possessing the firearm.”
So what law did she break? To answer the question, you would have to wade into the strange and wonderful world of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, a landmark 2022 Supreme Court decision that struck down previous restrictions and ruled that the Second Amendment to the Constitution protects the ability to carry a pistol in public.
Faithful to the dogma that more restrictions on gun owners equal less gun violence (if you’re wondering how that theory is working out, ask Chicago), New York governor Kathy Hochul championed the amusingly named Concealed Carry Improvement Act (CCIA), which passed the month after the Bruen ruling. Sure, the new law said, go ahead and enjoy your court-protected constitutional right, as long as you don’t do it in a sensitive zone.
What’s a “sensitive zone”? Read the CCIA, and you’ll discover that there are 20 kinds of them. Schools are sensitive zones, as are buses, the subway, libraries, parks, zoos, homeless shelters, and houses of worship. Oh, and Times Square. All of it.
Vernikov, alas, was in just such a sensitive zone when police picked her up for breaking the law. Where was she? In Brooklyn College, where throngs of students had gathered to cheer on Hamas, the terrorist organization that, a few days earlier, had breached an internationally recognized border, murdering more than 1,200 Israelis and kidnapping hundreds more. They were holding signs with slogans like “the Zionists ignited the fire,” suggesting that the attack, which included the beheading of babies and the execution of elderly Holocaust survivors, was really the victims’ own fault. And they were chanting that Palestine shall be free “from the river to the sea,” which, as a brief glance at a map of the Middle East will confirm, leaves no room for the world’s solitary Jewish state.
But this genocidal incitement occurred on a college campus, which means that Vernikov and any Jew wishing to protect himself from the pogrom enthusiasts across the quad had better surrender their piece—or else. Never mind that a Jewish student was bashed in the head across town at Columbia University, or that the Jewish student center at the University of Pennsylvania was vandalized, or that a Drexel Jewish student’s dorm-room door was set on fire. Schools are sensitive zones, which in New York means that anyone in the mood for some good, old-fashioned anti-Semitism can pretty much bet that Jewish students don’t have adequate means of self-protection.
The news of Vernikov’s plight hit me at a particularly touchy moment. As the councilwoman was getting arrested, my wife and I had to rush to our children’s Jewish day school and pick them up after we received an email alerting us that a massive pro-Hamas rally was about to begin in the college across the street. Returning home with two rattled kids who wanted to know who, exactly, might want to hurt them and why, I checked the mail—only to find an unmarked envelope with no return address containing an unsigned screed accusing Israel of apartheid and other crimes against humanity.
I was being targeted. And I could do nothing about it. Sure, I could apply for a concealed-carry permit and wade through the bureaucratic thicket that New York places between its residents and their constitutionally protected rights. But even were I to succeed in obtaining the coveted permit, what good would it do me? I would not be able, for example, to carry my firearm as I took my kids to or from school. Nor, for that matter, would I be able to lug my piece around if I chose to use any form of public transportation. And though synagogues have been the targets of several deadly shootings in recent years (such as the horrific Tree of Life synagogue attack), houses of worship are sensitive zones, too, which means that, had I a Glock, I wouldn’t be permitted to bring it along to the little synagogue where I pray every morning. Once again, advantage: Jew-haters.
Several Orthodox Jews, hallelujah, have challenged the CCIA’s constitutionality. And as my friends Tevi Troy and Rabbi Stuart Halpern argued not long ago in City Journal, Jewish tradition is serious about self-defense. Most American Jews, sadly, aren’t, which is why 77 percent of them told a pollster recently that they favor tougher gun-control measures.
This may soon change. Earlier this summer, the NYPD reported that a hate crime was committed against a Jewish New Yorker every 36 hours, another grim statistic in the overall surge in American anti-Semitism. The war in Gaza is likely to make things much worse, in New York and elsewhere. Chicago saw a major spike in anti-Semitic incidents last year, and things in the Bay Area aren’t much better. Wherever you turn these days, there’s not a lot of love for the Jews.
But even if, by some means of divine intervention, Jews were to emerge from their moral slumber and realize that a nine-millimeter is a must-have, not a luxury, in New York, they would still find it impossible legally to defend themselves when and where it mattered. That must change.
This week, Governor Hochul rushed to Israel to show her solidarity. It’s a lovely gesture. Here’s one lovelier: amend the CCIA. Plead with the State Senate to change the law to allow Jews the privilege, denied to them by so many haters for so many centuries, to arm themselves and protect their houses of worship and communities. Take real action before some disgruntled New Yorker, inspired by Hamas’s calls for global jihad, ambles into a synagogue on a Saturday and, God forbid, opens fire. Stand up for Jews and inspire other states to do the same.
Meantime, Jews who want to pray in peace will continue to hope for police protection or else hire full-time security. That’s hardly a recipe for a rosy future. If history teaches us anything, it’s that depending on the kindness of strangers hasn’t worked very well for the Jews.
Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua via Getty Images